Fall Pattern Yields Championship For UGA Anglers On Bartletts Ferry
Dawgs head into the creeks while the rest of the field goes astray.
Finally, the fall is here. Anglers across the South smile as they shake the dust off lightweight jackets and hoodies. No longer are we plagued by outrageous Southern summer heat. Instead we are greeted with chilly mornings and pleasant days out on the water. And the weather doesn’t go unnoticed by the aquatic object of our attention either.
As more and more anglers head back out on the water, more and more bass follow shad to the banks and backs of creeks. It’s a welcomed change since Bartletts Ferry, also known as Lake Harding, hasn’t been very forthcoming with her bass this summer. Such was evident at the recent FLW College Fishing Southeast Regional held on Bartletts Sept. 8-10.
Anglers from all over the Southeast found it quite difficult to boat keepers, much less any of the larger temperamental bass that inhabit the lake. With the University of Georgia (UGA) hauling in a mere 24-lbs., 4-ozs. for three days and winning the competition by nearly 8 pounds, it would appear that Bartletts is not a very good destination for bass fishing.
However, that is not the case. Though Bartletts, even during its prime-time bite, can’t compete with other well-known fisheries on the Georgia/Alabama border, such as Lake Eufaula and West Point Lake, there’s still a lot to be said for the lake. When the bite is right in the fall and spring, this relatively small 5,850-acre Georgia Power impoundment can boast some nice fish. And the convenience of its location makes it the perfect spot for an evening outing if you live in the area.
UGA anglers Randy Tolbert and Chase Simmemon capitalized on an early fall bite in the back of Halawaka Creek in September to secure their win and berth into the College Fishing National Championship this spring. Though a few of their limit fish were caught on drop shots out deep, their bread-and-butter quality bites came shallow relating to shad.
This pattern went unnoticed by the majority of the field because the scheduling of the tournament appeared a little early for such a bite. However, the Dawgs had found the pattern during during eight days of pre-fishing prior to the off-limits period, and the pattern held despite heavy rains that swept through the area just before the tournament.
Randy, of Rome, a recent UGA graduate with a degree in fisheries and wildlife, said he and Chase, of Habersham County, also a recent fisheries and wildlife graduate, started out early with drop shots and Spooks on main-lake points catching small spots to fill a limit. Then they would move back into the major creeks like Halawaka to fish a fall pattern that will likely be the best thing going this month.
“If you just went as far back into the big creeks as you can go, where the water temp was a little lower and there was a little stain and moving water, you could catch fish just flipping wood cover,” Randy said. “Depth didn’t seem to matter so long as there was a little current and cooler water there.”
The two anglers were able to cull spots for heavier largemouths and caught their big fish for the tournament, a 4-lb. largemouth, doing this. They were flipping Sweet Beavers and Fighting Frogs on Texas rigs.
Randy said they tried running small, square-billed crankbaits through brushtops in the creeks, a standard Bartletts fall pattern, but they weren’t able to get any hits.
The bite UGA keyed on is one that Auburn University anglers, and National Championship qualifiers, brothers Matt and Jordan Lee also expect will get better and better as October progresses.
“Harding is a small lake. So if you can go back into these creeks farther than most people do, you can catch some good ones,” said Matt. “You’ll find that’s your best bet at catching bigger fish early in October.”
Less work is required on behalf of the angler as the water temp drops and the shad and bass that moved out to the main lake for the summer rejoin the resident fish in the backs of the creeks. This makes finding and catching fish a lot easier.
“In September, the fish were kind of spread out and you could pick up a fish or two here and there, but in October they’ll get thick in there,” Matt said.
Any shallow-water shad imitation will produce bites, so Matt suggests you go with one that you have confidence in. For him it’s a topwater, but the fish can be fooled with square-billed crankbaits, willowleaf spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits as well.
Location is everything with fishing, but interestingly enough it is not the “where you fish” on Bartletts Ferry that matters as much as the “where you launch.”
Bartletts is home to shoal bass, which were not legal for weigh-ins at the tournament. No matter where you put in you can target these fish by heading to their obvious home up the river where the water runs shy and the shoals start to surface. These areas are also home to spotted and largemouth bass and were the focal point of teams such as Auburn and Kennesaw State University during the event.
Though both teams caught quality largemouths and spots during practice, they were cursed to catch mainly shoalies during the event. With the tournament coming out of Po Boy’s landing on the Alabama side, these fish, though fun to catch, were a disappointing sight to the anglers.
The primary baits they used to catch bass of all species in the shoals were topwater plugs, wakebaits and drop shots. All these baits can produce bites throughout the fall, but large wakebaits offer an exciting alternative to the typical techniques that anglers might use. Tom Frink, of Kennesaw State University, caught a beautiful 4-lb. shoalie on a wakebait during the event that he regrettably released after a quick photo. This proves that not only is the species surviving on Bartletts, but it is thriving.
“I like to throw a Spro swimbait over some of the deeper trees too,” Matt said.
He targeted some of the same fish that Tom sought using the wakebait and admits this is a pattern that will only get better as the upper end of the river adjusts to the shift in seasons.
“You won’t get many bites on it, but when you do it’s a good one,” he said.
Moving a little farther down river from the shoals, you’ll find backwaters and small tributaries that hold lots of largemouths in the fall. As the waters cool, largemouth bass return to their shallow-water stomping grounds and can be picked up using the same types of shad imitations that are used in the creeks. However, Jordan also likes to do a little flipping and pitching in these locations.
“I like to flip the laydowns with a Berkeley Pit Boss in the backwaters and creeks,” the War Eagle angler said.
Rigging the soft plastic with an Eco Pro Tungsten weight helps improve the feel of the bait. Pitching this setup around shallow wood can be a great way to pick fish off, but Matt admits stained water is key to really excelling here. He’ll look for stain in these creeks and backwaters and really gets excited when he can find that in conjunction with bait.
Working down the main river is another option. Though the Lee brothers don’t recommend the main lake this time of year, there is a section of Bartletts south of the shoals and north of the main lake that fishes more like a river than an impoundment. Here Jordan targets grass with a 3/8-oz. black War Eagle buzzbait, though he said the same areas can be worked with swim jigs, flukes and spinnerbaits.
Basically revert back to focusing on fishing your strength within a pattern. Fish in the fall on Bartletts are typically shad oriented whether they are in the backs of creeks, backwaters or along the main river. Pick out your favorite bait that matches the hatch, and stick with it. There are quality bass of all species to be caught, and each becomes more readily available as the water cools.
If you choose to fish the lower end of the lake, docks tend to be your best bet for a consistent bite. Schooling spots offer short-lived spouts of excitement, but docks hold fish year-round on Bartletts and can give up some good bags in the fall. Skipping them with swimbaits and jigs are your best bet, and if for some reason the bite is tough, fall back to a drop shot or shaky head.
Halawaka, although by far the largest, isn’t the only creek that feeds into the main lake of Bartletts. Similar shallow-water, shad-based patterns can be established back in the few other creeks along the lake. Start working your way into the creeks by fishing the shallow points and seawalls with crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
Stained water and shad activity is a good indication of where to start. As you progress, also pay attention to your graph if it has a temperature gauge. A good sign that the creek has current and is alive will be a slow drop in temperature. A slight temperature change of 2 or 3 degrees along the surface often indicates a much larger shift of 10 to 15 degrees down deeper. Bass, shad and other bait prefer the cooler water so that’s where you’ll find them.
If you want to make the most of an outing on Bartletts this October, there are a few things that you should key on. Overall you should devote most of your time to the creeks, backwaters and river, allotting only a small percentage of to docks on the main lake. Look for stained, cooler water that will lead you to a good bait. Once you find these conditions, pick a bait that best resembles the forage, and you should be able to mix up a bag of shoal, largemouth and spotted bass.
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